‘American Idol’ alums

From William Hung to Carrie Underwood, the hit reality show has produced some unforgettable characters and some true stars.

All seven winners of "American Idol" gather around Mickey Mouse for the opening of The American Idol Experience at Florida's Walt Disney World Resort in 2009. Clockwise, from front left, they are: Taylor Hicks, Fantasia Barrino, Kelly Clarkson, Mickey Mouse, Carrie Underwood, Ruben Studdard, Jordin Sparks and David Cook. The American Idol Experience attraction, inspired by the hit TV show, lets Disney park guests audition with a chance to appear onstage, or vote on their favorite singing performances from the audience.

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Kelly Clarkson won the first season of "American Idol" in 2002, and has sold more than 20 million records worldwide since then. As of April 2009, she is the highest-selling "Idol" winner. She's also appeared on numerous television shows, including "Saturday Night Live," "One Tree Hill," Smallville" and "Six Feet Under."

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Justin Guarini was the runner-up on "American Idol's" first-ever season, losing the title to Kelly Clarkson. The two later co-starred in an embarrassing, and badly reviewed, comedy film, "From Justin to Kelly." The film won the Golden Raspberry Award in 2005, noting that it was the worst musical of the first 25 years of the infamous "Razzies" film awards. Guarini has released several albums, but musically, has all but dropped off the radar of most "Idol" music fans.

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Kimberly Caldwell finished in seventh place on the second season of "American Idol," but turned her loss into an entertainment career. She has worked as a correspondent for an extreme sports program and as a host for TV Guide Network. For a time, Caldwell dated season-seven "Idol" winner David Cook. They reportedly broke up in early 2009. Before the breakup, Cook had to publicly debunk a Star magazine report that he purchased a $54,000 diamond engagement ring for Caldwell.

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Ruben Studdard won the second season of "American Idol," and since then has released multiple albums and received a Grammy Award nomination. While on the show, he was dubbed "The Velvet Teddy Bear" for his rich, soulful voice. Studdard was also noted for wearing shirts reading "205," the area code of his hometown, Birmingham, Ala. He has repeatedly struggled with his weight.

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Clay Aiken, seen here in his role as Sir Robin in the Broadway production of Monty Python's "Spamalot," had some of the most ardent fans of any "American Idol" alum. Aiken came in second to Ruben Studdard on the show's second season, but his fans, known as Claymates, were incredibly supportive and loyal even after the ouster. Although his sexuality was speculated upon in the press for years, Aiken would not comment on it until 2008, when he confirmed he was gay to People magazine. He has a son, Parker Foster Aiken, whose mother is Jaymes Foster, who has been the executive producer of three of Aiken's albums.

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Jennifer Hudson didn't win the third season of "American Idol," but she has gone on to have one of the most successful careers of any "Idol" alum. Sadly, her life has also been touched by tragedy. After "Idol," Hudson went on to star in the movie "Dreamgirls," for which she won the Academy Award for best supporting actress. She has also won a Grammy Award, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and numerous other honors. But in 2008, her mother, brother and young nephew were murdered, sending the singer into temporary seclusion. The estranged husband of Hudson's sister has been charged with the crimes.

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Fantasia Barrino, who often just goes by Fantasia, won the third season of "American Idol." She was the first single parent to win the show's top title, and some fans were concerned that her young parenthood was setting a bad example for viewers. She was just 16 when she became pregnant and 17 when she gave birth to her daughter, Zion Quari Barrino. She has said she broke up with the girl's father because he was physically abusive. After "Idol," she earned raves for her Broadway performance as Celie in the musical "The Color Purple."

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Constantine Maroulis is seen here performing in the Broadway musical, "Rock of Ages," a show packed with 1980s hair-band hits. Maroulis finished in sixth place on "American Idol's" fourth season, and has found plenty of musical and dramatic opportunities since then. In the fall of 2005, it was announced that he would star in "Brooklyn," a sitcom loosely based on his life growing up in a Greek-American New York family, but ABC eventually passed on the project.

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Carrie Underwood, seen during the 2009 Academy Of Country Music Awards in a gown she said reminded her of lava, is the winner of "American Idol's" fourth season. By far one of, if not the most, successful "Idol" alums, Underwood has won multiple Grammy Awards and is a multi-platinum selling artist. Her hits include "Before He Cheats," "Last Name" and "Jesus, Take the Wheel." She became only the seventh woman to win the Acadamy of Country Music Awards prestigious Entertainer of the Year honor in April 2009.

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Kellie Pickler endeared herself to many fans of "American Idol's" fifth season with her country twang and ways, once mispronouncing "salmon" as "sall-mon." She also earned praise for surviving a tough childhood. Her father served time in prison for aggravated assault and battery, and was released just a week after his daughter's elimination on "Idol."

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Chris Daughtry's fifth-season elimination is one of the most controversial in the history of "American Idol." He was the fourth-place finalist, and when he was voted off, many fans were shocked and refused to believe the votes were fairly counted. The elimination didn't hurt Daughtry much, however. His band's debut album sold more than a million copies after just five weeks, becoming the fastest-selling debut rock album in history.

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Taylor Hicks earned plenty of attention for his prematurely gray hair, but he was only 29 when he won the fifth season of "American Idol." Later that year, he was also named People Magazine's Hottest Bachelor. His fans are known as the Soul Patrol, and Hicks would frequently call out the group's name during "Idol" episodes. He reportedly received $750,000 for a memoir of his life, released by Random House in 2007.

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Melinda Doolittle finished third behind Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis on the sixth season of "American Idol." Two days after that show's season finale, judge Simon Cowell appeared on "Good Morning America" and said that the title should rightfully have gone to Doolittle. Since then, in addition to releasing music, Doolittle has sought out charity work. She is a supporter of the Malaria No More campaign, which distributes life-saving bed nets to protect African children from being infected by malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

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Sanjaya Malakar may not have been the best singer to ever grace the "American Idol" stage, but he garnered more press attention than some of the winners have earned. He and Jordin Sparks were both just 16 when they began the sixth season of the show. While Sparks would go on to win, Malakar would go on to be almost-mercilessly pilloried in the press. His voice was not as strong as other competitors, but he made up for it by grabbing the spotlight with attention-getting hairdos, including an infamous fauxhawk made up of multiple ponytails. He released an autobiography in 2009.

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Jordin Sparks was just 17 when she won the sixth season of "American Idol." Her debut album was certified platinum in 2008. Sparks is an evangelical Christian who wears a purity ring to signify that she plans to remain a virgin until marriage. In all her weeks on "Idol," she was never in the bottom two or three.

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David Cook won "American Idol's" seventh season, beating out another David, David Archuleta. Cook originally did not intend to try out for the show, instead accompanying his brother, Andrew, to the auditions. However, Cook had been pursuing a musical career for years before the tryout, reportedly telling his family "I just want to give myself until I'm 26 years old to get a job." He was 25 when he won the title.

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David Archuleta went up against David Cook in "Idol's" seventh-season finale. Archuleta was just 17 when the show ended, and had been one of the show's youngest finalists ever. "Idol" wasn't Archuleta's first brush with TV contests -- he was the junior vocal champion on "Star Search 2" when he was just 12.

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Most "American Idol" wannabes have to at least make it on the show to earn their fame. Not so for William Hung, who became nationally known after an extremely off-key audition featuring the Ricky Martin song "She Bangs" on the show's third season. Hung's odd singing and dancing befuddled and entertained both the judges and the viewers, and his positive attitude seemed at odds with his performance. "I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all," Hung said to the judges. He was able to parlay the audition into a variety of entertainment opportunities, including appearances in commercials and films.

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